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UK Officials Address Menopause in the Workplace

Big ben at sunset in london, england.

​Officials in the U.K. are exploring ways to support menopausal employees in the workplace, taking a global lead on the issue.

Last year, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee undertook an inquiry on menopause and the workplace, looking into whether more should be done to address the issue. "Why are workplaces failing women going through menopause?" The panel asked, calling these employees "an invisible cohort."

Menopausal symptoms have prompted nearly 900,000 U.K. women to leave their jobs, according to the committee, which noted that those in their late 40s and early 50s eligible for senior roles are resigning "at the peak of their career," with ripple effects on company productivity and gender-related pay and pension gaps.

"Three in every 5 women are negatively affected at work as a result of the menopause," the committee's chair, Right Honorable Caroline Nokes, a member of Parliament, said in announcing the inquiry last year. "The repercussions of that are not merely individual. Excluding menopausal women from the workplace is detrimental to our economy, our society and our place on the world stage."

The committee conducted a public survey in September 2021 and heard oral evidence on the issue from witnesses in five sessions from November 2021 through March.

Symptoms Hurting Work Lives

The survey showed that most menopausal employees experience symptoms that negatively affect them at work, but the employees don't tell anyone or seek adjustments based on concerns over privacy and stigma. The majority of these employees reported having trouble sleeping, problems with memory or concentration, and anxiety or depression—and nearly one-third said they'd taken time off due to symptoms.

Many workplaces have no menopause policies and affected employees don't always know how to seek support, the panel noted.

Survey respondents want employers to make reasonable adjustments and provide greater flexibility, as well as to remove stigma, encourage openness, provide education on the issue and raise awareness, the committee reported.

The U.K. government recently established a multidepartment menopause task force "to see how we can improve the experience of the menopause," said Maria Caulfield, a member of Parliament and minister for patient safety and primary care at the Department for Health and Social Care, during the March parliamentary committee session.

Paul Scully, a member of Parliament and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, noted during the session the importance of supporting menopausal employees and other older workers.

"We always make the point that the business case for employers is absolutely overwhelming. It is really clear that businesses lose out when older workers drop out of the labor market and that age diversity can bring huge benefits to businesses, as well as the experience and expertise," Scully said.

Parliament will have to sort through the information from the inquiry and decide whether current law adequately addresses menopause in the workplace or new measures are needed, said Tahl Tyson, an attorney with Littler in Seattle. U.K. officials are leading on the issue and may set an example for other countries, she noted.

The U.K.'s Equality Act 2010, which seeks to shield employees from discrimination based on age, sex, disability, pregnancy, religion and other protected characteristics, doesn't specifically cite menopause among the categories. Employees, however, have turned to employment tribunals to claim menopause-related discrimination by pursuing cases through age, disability or sex discrimination complaints.

In addition to the Equality Act 2010, menopause may be covered under an occupational health and safety law, Health and Safety at Work etc 1974.

"The difficulty where the menopause appears to be the root of discriminatory behavior is that there is no protected characteristic specifically covering it so claimants are therefore attempting to raise menopause claims under the established principles of disability, sex and age discrimination, which are not necessarily a good fit for such claims," said Daniella McGuigan, a lawyer with Ogletree Deakins International LLP's London office.

"The protected characteristics of age, sex and disability are used as proxies for issues that arise directly from the menopause. Whilst sex discrimination and the menopause may not perfectly align, there is a protection and a degree of overlap that affords menopausal women protection," she said.

"The majority of the existing claims being brought rely on disability discrimination and so it is necessary for claimants to overcome the hurdle of whether the menopause or the menopausal symptoms come within the definition of disability which is proving difficult but not impossible as recent successful claims at the Employment Tribunal have shown," she added.

While relatively few employment tribunal cases have directly addressed menopause, some employees have made headway and experts report that claims are rising. The Employment Lawyers Association (U.K.) reported that menopause was a relevant issue in 13 tribunal cases; 10 claims were dismissed, two upheld and one partially upheld.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance reporter and writer in Philadelphia.


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